Sponsors’ winning strategy
Using sport and culture for brand development
In the current business landscape, marked by consumer resistance to advertising and a cluttered ad market, sponsorship manifests itself as a highly valuable tool in brand communications. Not just to achieve visibility or even fame, the most obvious benefit of sponsorship, but by enabling a brand to be created, defined or reoriented. Sponsorship is a multi-functional weapon enabling brands to differentiate themselves from the competition in a meaningful way.
The sponsorship, or what is often called the partnership between property and advertiser, allows the latter to link to the positive perceptions consumers have around activities such as sports, movies or art. In the case of sport, it is not simply a form of entertainment; it inspires a passion that exalts emotions and generates states of euphoria and joy that are difficult to replicate. It can, of course, also be a source of anger and disappointment. Everything has a flip side, after all. But when we talk about brands, do not we do so against a background of emotion?
Sponsorship is a natural fit for brands in sectors with a direct link to the sponsored activity, such as brewers and football clubs. Each La Liga club has its official beer, from Mahou to Keler through Cruzcampo, Estrella Galicia and Estrella Damm. But what about categories with a more subtle link to sports or culture? Spain’s biggest energy companies demonstrate how sponsorship can help define what brands like these represent.
"The essence of the Iberdrola brand is people and their wellbeing. We are concerned about the future of the world in which we live." This is, in part, how the company defines the brand. It does not seem strange, therefore, to say that the change in Iberdrola's sponsorship strategy in late 2016 links precisely with that definition. It has achieved visibility at the highest level by sponsoring the Spanish men’s football team during its most successful period, and is backing women's sport in Spain through agreements with about 20 sporting federations. It’s gone from being one in a pool of many sponsors of the World Cup winners in South Africa 2010, to being the recognized supporter of a female sport that struggles for recognition in line with the men’s equivalent. The brand is concerned about gender equality in sports, so lends its name to women's sports competitions looking for recognition and greater media exposure. This, in turn, stimulates greater participation in women’s sport among younger generations. Message received.
The link is similarly clear between Endesa and one of the most-followed sports in Spain apart from football: basketball. Team sports by their very nature require parties to work in unison, like an orchestra, for the triumph of the whole. A prime example of team sport, basketball requires participants to regularly push physical and technical boundaries.
This is not too far a stretch from the values that Endesa says it represents: taking individual responsibility for the group's success, innovating, and putting trust in colleagues, customers and collaborators. Endesa’s association with basketball began with the Spanish basketball federation, was followed with naming rights to the ACB League Liga Endesa and, later, sponsorship of the EuroLeague and now the NBA. Endesa has become a faithful companion of the game, and of the conversation about it among fans in Spain. Activation and owned content complement the usual brand presence linked to such events, and close a circle in which the “orange ball” is a valuable vehicle for the transmission of Endesa’s message.
Gas Natural Fenosa (now Naturgy) chose a very different vehicle to help it relaunch its brand and combat misconceptions often applied to the sector. It used culture and, more specifically, cinema. But not only as a sponsor of the main festivals on the Spanish film industry calendar, with its logo a backdrop to the stars turning out for awards in San Sebastián, Málaga or Sitges. The brand promoted cinema from the point of view of the creator through its project Cinergía and made films with themes related to energy saving. The head of corporate marketing and brand of the company explained its strategy to the Spanish magazine El Publicista: "We wanted to approach the consumer and position ourselves as a friendly and close company that helps to save and improve the quality of life. Working on the reputation and positioning was the great challenge and the cinema has helped us to achieve it.”
These are only three outstanding examples of sponsorship from one specific sector, and we find many others among major national brands that employ or have successfully used the tools that the sponsorship of events, competitions or athletes puts at their disposal. La Liga has been sponsored by BBVA and subsequently Santander; CaixaBank has agreements with more than half of the clubs in the first division; Banc Sabadell has a strong association with tennis and with Rafael Nadal, who also is linked to the insurer Mapfre; Dia with the basketball federation, Movistar and its sponsorship of multiple properties.
In short, these are all cases that reinforce the power of sponsorship as a tool that, in multiple ways, can contribute decisively to the value and personality of a brand. The key to success lies in choosing the most appropriate association for the brand and its objectives, and leveraging that bond as far as the budget and creativity will reach.
Diego Bernabé Chozas
Head of Media Evaluation & Sports